Today marks the 80th Anniversary of the Death of Eileen, Duchess of Sutherland, who passed away on this day in 1943! As the wife of one of the wealthiest British Aristocrats, the Duchess possessed some splendid jewels appropriate for a such a grand position, among which was her Diamond and Pearl Earrings!
The daughter of the 7th Earl of Lanesborough, Lady Eileen Gwladys Butler married the Marquess of Stafford in 1912, who succeeded his father as 5th Duke of Sutherland in 1913. The couple had no children, and during the First World War, the Duchess served as a Red Cross Nurse, and was later the Mistress of the Robes to Queen Mary between 1916 and 1920, when the Duchess of Devonshire was the Viceregal Consort in Canada. One of the one of the richest landowning families in the United Kingdom, the Duke and Duchess resided between Dunrobin Castle in Scotland, Sutton Place in Surrey, and Thatched House Lodge in London (now the home of Princess Alexandra of Kent), with many other grand estates, including Trentham Hall and Stafford House, sold to diversify assets ahead of the First World War. Active in Society during the interwar years, after the outbreak of the Second World War, the Duke and Duchess retired to Dunrobin Castle in Scotland, where she suffered from asthma and passed away in 1943 at the age of 51.
A pair of striking Art Deco Diamond Earrings each with three pearl pendants, the Duchess was first pictured wearing the Earrings with her Belle Epoque Diamond Tiara when attending a Carnival Ball with the Prince of Wales (a great friend of the Duke) and Lady Ednam in 1925.
The Duchess of Sutherland was pictured wearing the Diamond and Pearl Earrings with her Diamond Tiara at the 1934 State Opening of Parliament, also wearing them with the Sutherland Diamond Rivière for a series of portraits by Cecil Beaton.
In 1937, the Duchess of Sutherland wore the Diamond and Pearl Earrings with the Belle Epoque Diamond Tiara and the Diamond Rivière for the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The Duke was the first Chairman of the British Film Institute, and both the Duke and Duchess were filmed in technicolour during the Coronation festivities. The Duchess also likely wore the Earrings for a Coronation Ball hosted by the couple at Hampden House, the first Ball at a private House attended by the reigning King and Queen since 1914.
The Duchess continued to wear the Diamond and Pearl Earrings for a series of events and festivities over the next few years, including a Gala Concert at Austrian Legation in London in 1937, not only with the Belle Epoque Diamond Tiara but also with other Tiaras and Bandeaus (as found by the wonderful Beth). After the outbreak of WWII, the Duchess presumably put the jewels away and the couple retired to Dunrobin Castle in Scotland, where she passed away in 1943.
The Duke remarried in 1944, and while the Belle Epoque Diamond Tiara and the Diamond Rivière were worn by the new Duchess, the fate of the Diamond and Pearl Earrings is unknown as there were several thefts of jewels, most notably a pair of Diamond Earrings stolen from the Duke’s home in Jamaica in 1954. After the Duke’s death in 1963, his titles were divided according to their patents: the Earldom of Sutherland and Lordship of Strathnaver passed to his niece, Elizabeth Sutherland, 24th Countess of Sutherland, while the remainder of the titles passed to the heir male, a distant relative, the Earl of Ellesmere. The Countess of Sutherland, who inherited the extensive family estates, also inherited the Diamond Rivière, and may have inherited the Diamond and Pearl Earrings, which, if they have survived, would belong to the current Earl, having escaped auction and the handover of other jewels, like the Sutherland Diamond Rivière, to the V&A Museum in lieu of Death Duties.